This week's tablehopper: awesome sauce.
Charcuterie selection at Spruce.
Helllllllo sunny skies. Now if only we can get that damned wind to lay off. It’s wrecking my ‘do, yo (and is zero fun to ride my bike in). But today is all about four wheels, since I’ll be zipping down to Pebble Beach Food & Wine this evening for a 24-hour whirlwind of canapes and wine. Very good wine. (The best kind.)
But this week has already been so ridiculous. I’m talking decadence overload. Was considering playing the lottery with this much culinary jackpot action. Let’s review, shall we? Tuesday night was the Irish baking class I mentioned I was attending at La Cocina—and was introduced to a new love in my life: brandy butter. Red alert.
Wednesday I had lunch with a couple fantastic Carried Away clients at Spruce—I worked with the restaurant to set up a special riesling luncheon for them, and you know the charcuterie and boudin blanc were on our menu. That evening, I was on a balcony terrace at the Hotel Vitale with an aperitif hour hosted by the one and only Krug Champagne and president/CEO Maggie Henriquez, who was (delightfully) in town. I had to pinch myself a few times—an ever-full glass of Krug Grande Cuvée is a mighty fine thing. But to keep it real, I had dinner standing on the sidewalk outside the Tonayense taco truck. Cabeza tacos, baby!
Last night I got to visit an old friend: Da Flora in North Beach. Sadly Flora was not in the house (she’s on vacation), but dinner was still so delicious and charming. My guests were totally in the zone after their first bite of the famed focaccia, and when I unleashed the sweet potato gnocchi on them, well, it was game over. They became my zombies, who would do anything for more gnocchi. That joint is one of the best date restaurants in the city, period.
Today’s issue has a long-overdue review of Prospect. I’ve been four times now, and I’ve enjoyed witnessing its progression. (It’s a lengthy review, so get comfortable.) I also have a couple socialites I forgot to run on Tuesday (d’oh!), a bookworm from Daisy Chow, and two entries from the 707 Scout, Deirdre Bourdet. Yup, this is a full Friday, I hope you enjoy. Oh, and check out the updated list of tequilas being poured at this tequila tasting event at Tres this Saturday—looks like trouble.
Okay, it’s time to pack up some Lipitor and hit the road. Have a fantastic weekend. I’ll be tweeting any fun sightings and tastes while at PBFW in case you want to hate on me any more than today’s introduction already inspired. Trust me, I am counting my blessings. I also need to be counting some calories, holy mother of God.
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
Update: Chef Ravi Kapur has departed; Chris L’Hommedieu is now chef.
Chef Ravi Kapur is obsessed with ingredients. Sure, there are many chefs in this town who are, but he’s definitely one who I see posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook the most. Beets, crab, duck neck, goat legs, strawberries… It certainly helps that during Kapur’s eight years working his way up the ranks at Boulevard he was right across the street from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. But I have a feeling that even if his kitchen was in the Outer Sunset, he’d still be wheeling his overflowing cart through the market each week.
You’ll have the same enthusiastic reaction to ingredients (I see that camera in your hand) as Kapur’s beautifully plated dishes start coming out of the kitchen at PROSPECT, the sprawling restaurant in the Infinity building from Boulevard partners Nancy Oakes, Pam Mazzola, and Kathy King (Kapur is executive chef-partner).
The menu here is in a constant state of flux, driven by the seasons and the chef’s whims and constant menu refinements and tweakings, so each visit will reveal something new. The appetizers are my favorite domain on the menu—it’s where I feel Kapur lets his creativity fly, and his love of (and background) eating different ethnic foods really emerges. Crisp and flavorful pig trotters ($14.50) come with a wavy ribbon of pig’s head (think coppa di testa), and the roasted peanuts, fried shallot, chile vinaigrette, and ginger-lime aioli made me think I was eating a four-star version of a dish at Lers Ros (although it was definitely dialed down on the heat scale—far from “Thai spicy”).
Meanwhile, the silky, seared black cod dish ($16.50) features a light Thai red curry sauce (given extra depth since it’s made with lobster shells), a sweet shrimp fritter encased in a shiso leaf with a crisp tempura exterior, plus some lime relish and snap peas. The dish has it all: texture, acidity, mad flavor. I’m pleased this one hasn’t budged off the menu—Kapur says it’s one of those dishes that is a good intro to the Prospect style. Agreed.
But before you think it sounds so pinkie-up, I also dug the high-low balance of Dungeness crab ($17) and caviar earlier this year, dressed down with ranch dressing and spiced onion rings that are the color of curly fries (now served with golden beets and Maine lobster, $16).
On the decadent side, there’s my reigning champion dish, the foie gras torchon ($19). Hello, pet. Now, as someone who dines out a fair amount (cough), I really don’t order foie that much anymore. It’s a deluxe ingredient, and not one I necessarily need in my life a whole lot. But bless the chefs who love their foie preparations—Kapur sent this out one night while I was dining at the restaurant, and I’m glad he did because I wouldn’t have ordered it. (I completely understand why this dish has been in the top ten on the home page of Deep Dishing for weeks.)
It’s quite spectacular, entailing a five-day process. The torchon is supremely smooth, the fluffy peanut butter of your dreams, and came with a whiskey gelée that made the dish pop, along with cara caras, candied mandarinquats, and cocoa nibs, a brill flavor component. Now the foie is served with rum gelée and pineapple cooked with jalapeño (a nod to Kapur’s Hawaiian background), and little sprigs of miner’s lettuce. I was really loving the buttery pumpernickel toast the dish originally came with, but the set has changed to whole wheat toast.
The pumpernickel has actually done a little do-si-do on over to the corned beef tongue carpaccio ($14), served with fried oysters that are soaked in buttermilk, a few dollops of horseradish aioli, and a pumpernickel crumble. The mache, watercress, and thinly sliced gherkins and radish keep the richness in check, while the flavors also make you think all you need is a little yellow mustard and some deli dude yelling “number nine, corned beef is up!” to turn this thing into a dream sandwich moment. (Do I get an Andes mint in my doggie bag?)
I know, this is a lot of time on the appetizers, but bear with me, there are 11 on there. And to be perfectly frank, they really speak to me more than the mains when reading the menu. Here was my brain on one visit: “Scallops, sea bass, rib-eye, chicken…hmmm. I am not really feeling a pull to fully commit to any of these. Am I a jaded diner? Let’s ponder this.” And with the entrées ranging from $28-$34, part of me just wanted two beautifully composed appetizers instead. I could eat two of those beef tongue carpaccio plates and die a happy woman.
But commit I did. I was happy to learn my mixed roast of lamb ($30) had to be subbed with goat that evening. Bring it on. It was a beautiful dish, with five cuts in all, plus baby artichokes cooked sous vide, braised butter beans with mint and olio nuovo, and a rich sauce of black garbanzos and black garlic. With one bite of the honey and harissa on the belly piece, and the osso buco sauce on the shoulder (although this sauce is going on hiatus for spring), and I was suddenly very pleased I had an entire plate to savor with all those flavors. Kapur is doing delicious things with goat, check it out—and it’s all butchered in house.
My friend’s Liberty duck ($29) was stunning, with glazed baby turnips and the tickle of pickled grapes. And it was one hell of a bird—meaty, rosy, with the fat perfectly rendered… Lesson learned. I guess that’s the trick to the entrées here—they’re much more than the sum of their menu descriptors.
Now, not everything is flawless in Prospect land, although you sense the entire staff is paying very close attention to everything in an attempt to attain complete and total perfection here. In a word: driven. But, all the intensive plating means a couple dishes have come not quite hot enough to the table, the desserts I’ve tried haven’t really moved me, and I’ve been served a few off items (oops, oxidized wine), but these things happen. The staff is lightning quick to replace or fix anything—the sense of hospitality is acute here. Service is definitely of the Boulevard school: polished, on the formal side, and most of all, gracious.
So, as you’ve gathered from the prices, this is not a neighborhood joint. It’s a sweeping restaurant, with 120 seats in the dining room, huge floor-to-ceiling windows onto Folsom Street, an expansive private dining room, and a kitchen that is the envy of many in town (except maybe Sho over at Yoshi’s). The glassware, flatware, and linens are all modern and feel good to touch. The group hired Brand + Allen Architects to design the restaurant; and while the room is comfortable—with big (coveted) booths, the luxury of space between the tables, and some unique art and beautiful chandeliers—I find the room to be really, uh, brown. This project had some big dollars behind it, and I guess I was hoping for a bit more utz utz-splash-boom-meow. There are some very cool elements, and the layout is well-conceived, but the monochromatic palette is just a bit too safe for this color-loving lady. Color quibbles aside, it’s sophisticated and draws a well-heeled (and expensive handbag-toting) crowd who likes to go out on the town, so we’ll just let the guests up the color and flash quotient.
It bears mentioning that I had a really enjoyable time dining at the bar one night—it’s where you can have bar director Brooke Arthur and her talented team whip up some fantastic cocktails on the fly for you (I am still hankering for the version of a cherry cobbler she did for me, with saffron-cardamom bitters and Seville orange), and the vibe is definitely a lot more relaxed. You’ll note a few concoctions on the list name check cocktail creators who don’t work there, like the Solstice by John Deragon (rye, Amaro Nonino, Dubonnet Rouge, apple brandy, and pomegranate, $12) and the Bitter Giuseppe ($10.50) by Stephen Cole, which I need to figure out how to make at home.
Note there is some communal table action in the area between the bar and dining room, perfect for when you “just want to swing by.” Happy hour (4pm-5:30pm) ends too early for my usual schedule, but I’ve heard it draws quite the crowd who can punch the clock and take advantage of the $5 snacks, wines, and drinks.
Winos can choose from four on tap (I love being able to order a 500ml size), and for such a spiffy place, you’ll be able to find some affordable wines by the glass (or feel free to pony up for the $22 glass of Paradigm cabernet sauvignon). The staff, trained by wine director Amy Currens, suggests some spot-on pairings if you want to go that route, which one night included an oloroso (I’m always pleased to have a sherry arrive at the table).
One way to get a taste of the Prospect experience is to come for Sunday brunch, which is currently one of the best in town. The popular egg “sandwich” ($13.50) comes with pork belly, a custardy fried egg, a dense housemade English muffin, pepper jelly, and home fries—nope, not for the light eater. The chilaquiles ($13.50) are also hearty—and my idea of hangover heaven—with housemade chorizo, an ample serving of avocado, ranchero sauce, and scrambled eggs. The corn skillet cakes and maple syrup kind of hide at the bottom of the menu, but now you know to look for them ($8). (I want a recipe so I can make those buggers at home, so good.) You should also get sides of the ricotta donuts ($8), so fluffy and cakey (they also appear on the evening dessert menu).
There are some excellent eye openers here, like the bird of paradise fizz ($11) that had sublime texture—the non-alcoholic pear sour ($6) also has the same egg white magic. Brunch has an easygoing vibe: light streams in the large windows, the crowd dials down to mostly thirty-somethings, and there’s some soul playing—but service is still pretty dang precise. Because that’s how they do things here.
Prospect - 300 Spear St. San Francisco - 415-247-7770
Shindigs, Feasts, & Festivals (let's party)
Dining Options for Mother's Day 2011
Sunday May 8, 2011
As always, you’ll have plenty of special Mother’s Day dining options in SF, whether you want to celebrate with brunch or dinner. Remember to make reservations, ‘kay?
To celebrate alongside a beautiful view, consider the Mother’s Day brunch at EPIC ROASTHOUSE or ONE MARKET. From 11am-2pm, EPIC which will feature a three-course, prix-fixe menu ($40, $20 children 12 and under; exclusive of tax and gratuity). Some eye-catching menu choices are the lobster-cucumber salad with avocado buttermilk dressing, rosemary rotisserie lamb sandwich on crusty onion bread with chilled artichokes barigoule, and bananas Foster bread pudding. They’re also featuring a special cocktail dubbed ‘Hugs & Kisses’—Aperol, blood orange juice, and cava ($8).
One Market chef Mark Dommen will offer special à la carte dishes for Mother’s Day, including rock shrimp tacos with jalapeño aioli, shiso; savory cheese doughnuts with bacon aioli; Dungeness crab cakes with saffron aioli, mizuna; house-cured Mangalitsa pork with asparagus, petite greens; Petaluma three-egg open-face omelet with squash blossoms, fresh ricotta cheese; and ahi tuna burger with mizuna and shaved fennel salad, saffron aioli. There will also be a three-course, prix-fixe “Mom’s Market Menu” ($39.50): first course: spring vegetable salad or golden beet soup; main course: Alaskan halibut “sous vide” or spit-roasted prime rib; plus your choice of dessert. For reservations, call 415-777-5577.
Dine alfresco at FOREIGN CINEMA, where chef-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark are offering a market fresh three-course Mother’s Day brunch menu with a selection of options for each course. Seatings from 10:30am-2:30pm. Adults $45; children $15 (excluding tax and gratuity). Reservations are recommended: 415-648-7600.
Another three-course brunch option is SPRUCE from 10:30am-2:30pm. For each course, choose from items like fava bean ravioli, citrus confit, truffle emulsion; farm egg omelet, spring garlic, red ribbon sorrel, soft Crescenza cheese; and poached Alaskan halibut, stuffed baby artichokes, Swiss chard, baby beets, Bordelaise. Add half ounce wild Steelhead caviar for $25; half ounce American Osetra caviar, $50. Dessert will be croissant pudding, first of the season cherries, pistachios, and vanilla malt ice cream. Full menu here. $65, exclusive of tax and gratuity. 415-931-5100.
For the vegetarian mom, GREENS will serve chef Annie Somerville’s regular Sunday brunch of fresh, seasonal, and local cuisine. This is another one with stunning views. Reservations, call 415-771-6222. Another all-vegetarian option is MILLENNIUM, where you’ll start with a complimentary Bellini for all moms, followed by a three-course brunch with sweet and savory options. (Last year’s included housemade blackberry-chocolate chip banana bread, strawberry cornbread, cinnamon and sugar beignets, spring strawberry salad, a Benedict with rosemary-pimenton potatoes, and blueberry cinnamon bread pudding with coffee ice cream.) 11am-2pm. $42; $22 children under 12; tax and gratuity not included. Call for a reservation: 415-345-3900 ext. 10.
This one happens only once a year: GARY DANKO will begin service early at 3pm, offering their regular three-, four-, and five-course prix-fixe menu format with many choices. Female guests will receive a complimentary long-stemmed rose, and every table will receive a chocolate memento and take-away breakfast cake. Walk-in guest seating will be available at the bar.
For an early dinner, try A16 (4pm-9pm), where they will be honoring all mothers in attendance with a flower upon arrival and a gift box of beautiful, assorted cookies and biscotti. The light-filled dining room and excellent selection of wines won’t hurt either. Reservations online.
Here’s a fun, non-restaurant option: Edible Excursions’s GOURMET GHETTO MOTHER’S DAY EXCURSION. Starting at 11:30am, take mom on a culinary stroll through the Gourmet Ghetto, North Berkeley’s home of California Cuisine, stopping for nibbles at local favorites like SOOP, Alegio Chocolate, Saul’s Delicatessen, Vintage Berkeley, Lush Gelato, Gregoire’s, and Love at First Bite Cupcakery & Bakery. (Note: stops are subject to change depending upon availability.) Then from 1:30pm-3pm, visit the charming Imperial Tea Court to experience a Jasmine Pearl Tea Presentation, two delectable dim sum appetizers, and a spicy pork or vegetarian main course made with authentic, hand-pulled noodles. More info and reservations: 415-806-5970 or email. $95, tickets are nonrefundable and cannot be exchanged or rescheduled. (More fine print here.)
And for a hands-on option, the CAVALLO POINT COOKING SCHOOL is offering two classes. On Saturday May 7th, the Cooking from the Farmers’ Market: Mother’s Day Dinner class (5pm-9pm, $125/person plus tax) features seasonal produce grown within miles of Cavallo Point. During class, you’ll learn about Bay Area ocean-fresh fish and sustainably raised meats while you prepare dishes like shaved asparagus salad with harissa grilled shrimp, pan-seared halibut, braised beef sugo, and sautéed wild mushrooms. When you’re done cooking, you get to enjoy the dinner you made with wines to match. On Sunday May 8th, the hands-on Mother’s Day Brunch class will have you cooking up spring onion tart, handmade pasta, chocolate lavender hazelnut scones, and other brunch-y items (11am-3pm, $95/person plus tax, includes wine). See the full menus here.
24th Annual Star Chefs & Vintners Gala
Sunday May 15, 2011 5pm–11pm $450 Info/tickets Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion 415-343-1280
Once again, Nancy Oakes is chairing Meals On Wheels SF’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the 24th ANNUAL STAR CHEFS & VINTNERS GALA on Sunday May 15th, 5pm-11pm in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center. Over 70 stellar Bay Area chefs, plus top bartenders and wineries, will be preparing an hors d’oeuvre and wine reception, a seated three-course meal, and a dessert reception for an event that never fails to wow its guests. It’s one of the city’s best food events of the year, that’s for sure. (Take a peek at my pics from last year.)
The event is billed as “the ultimate food lover’s feast,” and that’s no wonder when you look at the list of participating chefs, which includes local chefs Matthew Accarrino (SPQR), Jan Birnbaum (EPIC Roasthouse), David Bazirgan (Fifth Floor), Thomas McNaughton (Flour + Water), Annie Somerville (Greens), Martin Brock (Gary Danko), Joseph Manzare (Hecho, Zuppa), Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Boccalone), Michael Tusk and Sean O’Toole (Quince), Jennifer Biesty (Scala’s Bistro), Charles Phan (The Slanted Door), Mourad Lahlou (Aziza), and Mark Sullivan (Spruce). Just check out the photos from last year for further proof of the caliber of food you’ll find at this gala event.
Over 60 leading vintners will also participate, many providing wine pairings for each of the dishes. They include Chappellet Vineyard, Crocker & Starr Wines, Duckhorn Vineyards, Hanzell Vineyards, Mumm Napa, Pride Mountain Vineyards, Poem Cellars, Radio-Coteau Wine Cellars, Realm Cellars, and Saddleback Cellars. Did we mention the bartenders? Scott Beattie (HMS Cocktails), Jon Gasparini (Rye, 15 Romolo, Rosewood), Aaron Gregory Smith (15 Romolo), and Brooke Arthur (Prospect) will serve up classic spirits and exotic concoctions.
Following the hors d’oeuvre and wine reception, and the seated three-course meal, the evening will end with a lavish dessert reception featuring sweets from Yigit Pura (Taste Catering), Jake Godby (Humphry Slocombe), Sara Spearin (Dynamo Donuts), and Kara Haspel Lind (Kara’s Cupcakes), and more. You will assuredly leave on a sugar high.
There will also be a live and silent auction with items including private dinners with celebrity chefs, and “Fund-A-Route,” in which guests pledge cash donations towards funding an entire meal delivery route for the next year. Guests at the 2010 Gala raised a record-breaking $317,000 for “Fund-A-Route,” while the event raised a grand total of $1.2 million.
Tickets start at $450 (with patron levels ranging from $1,500 to $20,000) and benefit Meals On Wheels of San Francisco, whose mission is to provide isolated homebound seniors in San Francisco with nutritious meals, daily human contact, and supportive services to prevent their premature institutionalization. They serve 960,000 meals to homebound seniors every year.
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
More New Restaurants Coming to the 707
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
The City of Napa saw 12 new restaurants open in 2010, and yet somehow there are still more on the way, with each of them bringing something new to the mix.
A modern Japanese sports bar called EIKO’S will be opening next month in the old Piccolino’s storefront on First Street, across from Sala Salon. Massive, ruthless interior demolition at the site is changing the former cafeteria-like space into a modern lounge with an indoor firepit, seductive couch seating, a sleek bar, and a radically different vibe. The restaurant takes its name from Napa veteran Eiko Nakamura, who has run Fujiya at the outlets for 24 years, and who is the sushi master behind this tony new joint. Brazilian native Fellipe Estevez will bring flash and flavor as GM, having worked front of the house at such places as Aureole Las Vegas and Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills. To help celebrate their opening, Eiko’s is offering a two-hour sushi and sashimi class on Sunday May 29th for $125 per person, which includes the class, a video of the class, a bottle of sake, lunch, and a take-home bamboo rolling mat. Call Fellipe to reserve: 310-804-1097. 1385 First St. between Franklin and Randolph, Napa.
The historic Old Adobe, whose sign proudly proclaims that it has been serving Mexican food since 1840, will soon be swapping its tacos for momos. According to the new tenant’s poster, Sausalito’s TASTE OF THE HIMALAYAS (not to be confused with Sonoma’s Taste of the Himalayas) will be opening a second location in Napa’s oldest surviving structure soon. This Taste of the Himalayas group seems to be angling for a more Slanted Door-like approach to Nepali cuisine, using local California ingredients to freshen up traditional dishes from the old country. Details are sketchy on when the Napa outpost will open (they have not returned my messages), and the space itself doesn’t look like a whole lot of activity is going on… but local lovers of inexpensive curries have their fingers crossed. 376 Soscol Ave. at Silverado Trail, Napa. No phone yet.
A New Kitchen Door for the Martini House Team
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
Fans of Richard Miyashiro and Todd Humphries’ Martini House can stop their mourning. The two have reassembled their A-team for a brand new venture in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market called KITCHEN DOOR, projected to open in the old Oxbow Wine Merchants space the second week in June. The project marks a sea change for all of the key players—Miyashiro, Humphries, chef de cuisine Christopher Litts, and GM Tim Seberson—who have worked most of their careers in the white tablecloth, fine dining category. When I spoke with them a few weeks ago, they were all stoked to be stripping down for their new adventure, eliminating reservations, waiters, linens, and formality. Guests will order and pay at the front cashier, choose their own seats, and either watch as the open kitchens gets cracking or kick back outside on the Oxbow’s awesome riverside patio.
The main seating area inside is right in the middle of the restaurant, with a communal table, bar counter seating, and great views of the various prep stations along the external walls of the dining room. I can’t wait to see their new wood-fired Mugnaini oven in action. Besides the obvious pizzas and roast chickens, this little baby will soon be churning out more unusual roasts like Armenian flatbreads, seasonal seafood, and ash-roasted potatoes.
Humphries described the menu style as locally sourced, seasonal, and handmade, but more accurately just the stuff the chefs want to eat when they’re not working. Serious comfort food for seriously jaded palates. No word yet on whether Humphries will reprise his Martini House mushroom tasting menus, but foraged mushrooms will definitely feature prominently in season. His beloved candy cap mushrooms are almost certain to make an appearance in maple-scented desserts, and, I’m hoping, will also find their way into the flavor list for their housemade soft-serve ice cream.
The price point for Kitchen Door will be quite a bit lower than Martini House, as you’ve probably guessed. Affordability is one of the main goals here, so there will always be a selection of local wines on tap, and other well-priced options by the bottle to complement the sharing-size plates. To the relief of picnickers and locals alike, takeout will be a big part of Kitchen Door’s operations, and the restaurant plans to offer soups, hand pies, pantry items, and other ready-to-eat snacks to go in addition to the regular menu.
Kitchen Door will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week from 11am, with continuous service until 9pm, as well as brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 9am. Yes, at long last, the Oxbow will finally have a true brunch destination. 644 First St. in the Oxbow Public Market, Napa. No phone yet.
Book Reviews (another place for your nose)
Grilled Cheese, Please!: 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes: by Daisy Chow
Don’t forget: the book mentioned below is available at 20% off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.
Grilled Cheese, Please!: 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes Laura Werlin (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
April happens to be National Grilled Cheese Month, perfect timing for Grilled Cheese, Please!: 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes by Laura Werlin. This is the author’s second book devoted to the grilled cheese sandwich, so you can bet she takes it way beyond white bread and processed cheese.
How far beyond? Many of Werlin’s recipes tend toward the gourmet or unconventional. Truffles, asparagus, balsamic-glazed carrots, and kimchee are just some of the ingredients called for. Werlin also uses not-so-ordinary breads like focaccia, pain au levain, even croissant, and plenty of sourdough and rye, too. The breads are always well suited to the sandwich fillings, like in one recipe that matches brioche with a sweet filling of raspberry preserves, mascarpone, brie, and chocolate. (Word of advice: this one can get messy.)
As for the star ingredient, most of the cheeses are quite approachable and readily available anywhere. Note that Werlin doesn’t skimp on cheese: any given sandwich can have upwards of three ounces. When she calls for specialty regional cheeses, she takes care to suggest close substitutes (she’s an award-winning cheese author, by the way, so she knows her stuff). Case in point, the Hog Island grilled cheese recipe—a San Francisco fave usually made with a local cheese called St. George—is a rather good approximation of the original when made with cheddar and Havarti. Tasted side by side, I can’t deny that the St. George is nuttier and more complex, but both are still quite satisfactory.
You’ll find a good variety of recipes, some of the author’s own creation, others from grilled cheese-focused restaurants and food trucks. Werlin uses compound butters quite freely to slather the breads with more flavor, mixing in spices, herbs, even crushed tortilla chips. There are recipes that are inventive takes on international flavors (like Greek and Spanish), meats paired with sweet-tart fillings (like chorizo with apple and dates), as well as riffs on classic American sandos (like a Philly cheesesteak). Check the Ultimate Childhood Flashback: white bread with mayo, American cheese, dill pickles, and potato chips inside the sandwich. If only I could figure out how to keep the chips from getting soggy… Accoutrements are included too—tomato soup, deep-fried pickles, jalapeño relish, and more.
The book also keeps things interesting with outside-the-box variations. The spinach, egg, and manchego grilled cheese uses frog-in-the-hole style construction; it’s good for a hearty, runny-yolked breakfast. The open-face Dutch Treat makes for an easy, sweet dessert with banana, Gouda, and brown sugar caramelized under the broiler (though I should’ve made sure to cover the corners of my toast with cheese to keep it from burning). And the arepa made of griddled corn cakes, Monterey Jack, plaintains, and black beans sounds promising—it’s next on my list of recipes to try.
Werlin’s recipes are straightforward and mostly repeat her own particular grilled-cheese-making methodology. A couple of her key steps: grate (don’t slice) the cheese, butter the bread (not the pan), cover, flatten (slightly), flip twice. Simple, right? Lucky for us, it doesn’t take rocket science to get rich, gooey, crispy results. Featuring vibrant photos by Maren Caruso, this is a cute and fun little book that will surely have you saying “Yes, please!” to grilled cheese.